24 October 2010

MATCH REPORT: Norwich City 1 Middlesbrough 0 (Saturday 23 October 2010)

In a scrappy and often strangely slow game at Carrow Road, Norwich City inflicted a seventh consecutive away defeat on managerless Middlesbrough with a single goal from Canadian striker Simeon Jackson.

Both sides suffered midweek defeats: Middlesbrough surrendered 1-0 at stuttering Nottingham Forest in their first match since parting with Gordon Strachan, and Norwich lost 2-1 at home to struggling Crystal Palace after a languid second-half display.

Middlesbrough’s caretaker manager Steve Agnew made two changes, replacing Senegalese international Mickaël Tavares with £2m summer signing Kevin Thomson – one of several Scottish League captures yet to shine for Boro for whatever reason – and dropping Scott McDonald, yet to recover from the disappointment of missing Australia's World Cup party, for Luke Williams.

Paul Lambert's changes were bolder, dropping Korey Smith for David Fox, whose last start came in the opening day defeat to Watford, and bringing in Anthony McNamee for Wes Hoolahan. This seemed intended with Norwich's faltering home form: City’s diamond, so successful in League One, has been countered by visiting teams putting men behind the ball and double-marking creative talisman Hoolahan. Lambert played a flatter 4-4-2 here, his successful rectification of a tactical problem further endearing him to a crowd who have not bonded so closely with a manager for years.

Middlesbrough seemed stunned by the change of script, with McNamee tormenting former Norwich loanee Matthew Bates throughout. However, injuries to full-back Adam Drury and midfielder Andrew Surman left Norwich’s left side weakened, and initially it looked as though Gary O'Neil and Nicky Bailey might exploit this. However, for all the space Middlesbrough found, they failed to turn lengthy spells of possession into clear-cut chances.

The best efforts during the first 45 minutes came from Norwich, firstly through driving central midfield play from Andrew Crofts, who hit the post and then fired over after tenacious play from right-back Russell Martin, who had more freedom to attack with the more defensively-minded Steven Smith replacing Drury on the left. Martin, in one of his best Norwich games, linked strongly with McNamee (whose contribution to Watford's 2005-2006 promotion campaign was overlooked as Ashley Young attracted the headlines). Indeed, it was McNamee who crossed for Grant Holt – who looked offside on one of the few times he made a telling contribution in the box rather than drifting wide, a tactic that negates his strengths and exposes his limitations – to knock back for Jackson’s tap-in on 44 minutes.

Compelled to push for an equaliser, Middlesbrough again fell short: Lambert and O’Neil both subsequently agreed that Boro looked competent defensively but lacking strength and width in attack. McDonald, who replaced the ineffectual Kris Boyd, fired wide in injury wide – the closest Middlesbrough came as City’s defence held firm, boosted by the sublime Elliott Ward’s return from suspension.

The away fans vocalised their disdain for the prospect of Gary Megson as manager, and this display will have done nothing to persuade Paul Lambert, linked with the post alongside Tony Mowbray, Paul Ince and (optimistically) Frank Rijkaard, to leave Norfolk. Two stars from Middlesbrough’s enigmatic, tragicomic 1996-97 campaign, Juninho and Fabrizio Ravanelli, have also been mentioned: the first thing any prospective manager must do towards reviving the Teesiders is halt a decline triggered more obviously by a lack of confidence than talent.

16 October 2010

MATCH REPORT: QPR 0 Norwich City 0 (Saturday 16 October 2010)

London has not often proved prosperous for Norwich City who, before returning to the Championship by winning at Charlton in April, had won just five times in the capital since 1999. Although Norwich did not make it seven today, they acquitted themselves well in an intriguing tactical battle with League leaders Queens Park Rangers, suggesting that their place atop the play-off positions is not undeserved.

Both teams lined up with a diamond formation that placed attacking emphasis on deep-lying forwards: QPR’s Adel Taarabt and Norwich’s Wes Hoolahan. It soon became clear why Rangers manager Neil Warnock allows Taarabt such freedom: although not fully fit, the Moroccan constantly threatened during the first twenty minutes, but Norwich’s tactic of not man-marking Taarabt, instead cutting his passes, successfully prevented him and prolific forwards Heiðar Helguson and Jamie Mackie from piercing City’s defence. The loss of Hungarian international Ákos Buzsáky deprived QPR of an alternative creative outlet: Warnock sent on defender-turned-midfielder Mikele Leigertwood, allowing City’s back four, particularly left-back Adam Drury, to nullify Taarabt effectively.

Andrew Crofts, at the base of Norwich’s diamond, not only protected the burgeoning centre-back partnership of the subtle Elliott Ward and the stronger Leon Barnett but also provided a starting point for their infrequent attacks. Paul Lambert’s side looked over-reliant on Hoolahan, with last season’s top scorer Grant Holt dropping deeper than usual, but it was Holt who won a penalty on 28 minutes, going to ground under Clint Hill’s push following Hoolahan’s cross. Hoolahan, however, never looked like scoring, a nervous run-up producing a shot scuffed well wide.

This proved Norwich’s best chance of extending a run of scoring in their last 32 away games: this was their first scoreless away result since Lambert, whose stock continues to rise, took over. As the rain eased in the second half, Norwich had their best spell of possession, but Holt’s failure to lead the line or supply the pacy Simeon Jackson, combined with the inability of midfielders Simon Lappin and Korey Smith to create space for Hoolahan (replaced by Chris Martin after seventy minutes), meant that they created few clear-cut chances against a side yet to concede at home this season.

With Taarabt fading and replaced by Tommy Smith, QPR tested Norwich with accurate crosses, especially after Drury limped off, but Mackie and Helguson rarely stretched visiting goalkeeper John Ruddy. They nearly regretted their profligacy when a curiously slow move resulted in Jackson putting Holt through: after taking what felt an age to latch onto the pass, Holt took one touch too many before firing wide.

Ruddy made a late stop from Smith and Andrew Crofts cleared off the goal-line to prevent QPR taking all three points, stalemate a fair result between two solid sides who struggled for attacking ideas when their playmakers were neutralised. QPR have been linked with 36-year-old World Cup winner Robert Pirès: if fit and on form, the ex-Arsenal winger could provide the necessary spark to maintain Rangers’ four-point lead at the Championship summit.

14 October 2010

Mike Penner/Christine Daniels: the sad story of a transsexual media pioneer

Slowly, the American media is starting to process the sad story of transgendered journalist Mike Penner, who detransitioned before committing suicide in November 2009, 31 months after he announced in the LA Times that he was becoming a woman – namely, Christine Daniels.

Penner – I use this name, and male pronouns (excluding when living as Christine) as he stated before his death that this was how he wished to be addressed – joined the LA Times in 1983, going on to cover a range of national and international sporting events, including Major League Baseball, the World Cup and the Olympics with considerable wit, poetry and insight. Consequently, Penner was well known (the LA Times has a circulation of over 600,000) on coming out – which he did in a sensitive article entitled ‘Old Mike, New Christine’.

Penner described how it had taken ‘more than 40 years, a million tears and hundreds of hours of soul-wrenching therapy’ to find the courage to come out to ‘a world whose knowledge of transsexuals usually begins and ends with Jerry Springer’s exploitation circus.’ Penner displayed his awareness that other people would need time to adapt ‘as I move from Mike to Christine’; his sports desk colleagues’ kind, humorous reactions led him to conclude that ‘This could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.’

Daniels’ euphoria gave way to a complex range of emotions. ‘Old Mike, New Christine’ prompted a thousand positive e-mails, and her editor, Randy Harvey, persuaded her to blog her transition under the title ‘Woman in Progress’. This made Daniels a heroine to a transsexual community that desperately needed role models, but her blog never mentioned a crucial fact, too painful to publicly document: Daniels’ wife, fellow Times writer Lynn Dillman, filed for divorce on Daniels’ first day working as female.

Daniels’ relationship with the transgender community became anything but beautiful. In demand for speeches to LGBT groups, advocates tried to prepare her for the difficulties of public transition. Daniels was deeply hurt when sports writer Paul Oberjuerge criticised her ‘dress-up role playing’ on the San Bernardino County Sun’s website, and mortified by her disastrous encounter with Vanity Fair photographer Robert Maxwell.

Being judged on appearances is a thorny subject for transsexual women, and Daniels was distraught when some suggested that the contents of her blog facilitated such judgement. Daniels fell out with Susan Stanton, who worried that she focused too much on hair, make-up and clothes, reinforcing stereotypes that have long been used to attack transsexual women. Daniels ended the friendship, emailing Stanton: ‘I’m a real woman … not a trans-anything who needs to quote-unquote represent some undefined community. For the first time in my life, I’m being true to myself, and my true self loves makeup, clothes and shoes.’

Daniels complained of being ‘used’ by the ‘community’, and in early 2008, withdrew from public appearances in LGBT contexts. Her final LA Times byline appeared in April 2008: she was hospitalised in June, doctors determining that the stresses of public transition, the death of her mother and her ex-wife’s continuing distance were manifesting themselves as abdominal pain.

‘Woman in Progress’ was mysteriously removed from the LA Times site, and deleted from the archives. Daniels stopped taking hormones and demanded to be addressed as Mike Penner again, pulling out of scheduled Sex Reassignment Surgery. Penner returned to the LA Times in October, but the desired reconciliation with his wife did not materialise. A year later, he killed himself.

*

Having embarked on a similar venture, I felt an absolute terror of recognition on reading Penner’s story. After considering our differing ages, backgrounds and likely level of prior engagement with transgender culture and concerns, I felt comfortable that I could avoid a similar fate under the new media spotlight. Then, I felt compelled to write about it: Penner’s story seemed a terrible moral fable, illsutrating the terrible ends that can meet pioneers, but it is far too complex to draw any easy conclusions.

Stories of people who abandon transition or reverse their Sex Reassignment Surgery can attract a lot of attention from the conservative media in both the US and Britain, who, in the recent past, have not often represented transsexual or transgendered subjects in a positive light. Some publications and websites initially cast Penner’s detransition and death (as often with detransition stories) as ‘transsexual regret’, using it to illustrate the dangers – as they saw it – of transgressing the gender norms often upheld by, and integral to their publications (and the advertisements that fund them).

Such stories also appeal to certain feminist opponents of gender reassignment (arguments which are well documented elsewhere), uncomfortable both with the idea that biology is not necessarily destiny for those born male-bodied, who might infiltrate ‘womyn’s’ spaces, but also by the construct of ‘femininity’ – a construct often treated scornfully, as Julia Serano explains, by certain men, feminists, lesbians, gays and queers, especially when manifested in someone, like Penner, born male.

For me, Penner’s experiences with other transsexual and transgender people constitute the saddest part of the story. Most pre-operative male-to-female (MtF) transsexuals experiment with high-femme styles at some point, as part of what is essentially a second puberty (hormonally and socially): their style may well evolve, but these adult explorations of hyper-femininity (as a response to being barred from such exploration in their teens) inform stereotypes of MtF transsexuals and attract the most scorn.

Understandable, but disheartening that members of the transsexual community – me included, at times, when I’ve been with another MtF person whose appearance has attracted hostile attention – can internalise these criticisms and use them to attack other people in similar positions, undermining them for reinforcing stereotypes when they are genuinely expressing their gendered feelings at that point in their lives.

If we learn anything from this, it should be that making people’s lives subservient to ideological principles can have terrible consequences. Now, I contradict myself, arguing against the abstraction of Penner’s human experiences to illustrate a point about the perils of using human experiences to illustrate a point, but I’m a human being, and, as such, not always consistent. Whilst we should be vigilant against hypocrisy, demanding that individuals must always fit to theoretical expectations, and attacking them whenever we perceive them to fail, is not a fair way to treat anyone.

5 October 2010

KEEP STILL: A short story.

A short story written in 2006, intended to accompany the song of the same song by Manchester band Performance, whose new album, 'Red Brick Heart', is now available on iTunes.

KEEP STILL
On three sides of the palace lie desert. To the left, there is a river, flowing towards the capital, three miles north. The six hundred foot palace stands on a site of ten square miles. Its stepped pyramid rests on a plinth that raises it above the presidential gardens. A concrete path leads to the main steps, above which is the marble entrance.

Above this arch is a simple monument to the revolution: an enlarged Party insignia with an inscription dedicating the building to those who fell. The main arch is replicated in miniature on all sides, with several entrances separated by pillars arranged in rows of six. The palace is divided into three sections, the largest in the centre, with two adjacent, smaller structures. On its roof are hanging gardens, surrounded by a stone balcony, which overshadow the desert and the glistening river.

*

Just after the revolution, the nation’s greatest architects were invited to submit entries for a competition to design a governmental building. I was informed long before the deadline, though, that my entry would win – a reward for my role in the storming of the Royal Palace, on whose site my building now stands. I did not feature in the mural that adorned the ground floor ceiling, though: the government wanted a dynamic depiction of the revolutionary moment, showing the President triumphantly saluting the workers scaling the crumbling walls as the fires raged behind him.

My role was to co-ordinate the coup. Whilst my old friend led from the front, realising the ideas I’d helped him develop, I was in hiding, on his orders. He said I was too important, intellectually, to be risked: my knowledge of the grounds and their defences was crucial to the Royal Palace operation, during which I was to plan how to protect the capital’s strategic points against the inevitable counter-revolution, and consider how the city might be reordered.

After the insurgency was quelled, a whole new infrastructure was demanded. I was immediately named National Deputy for Architecture, answerable only to the President and the National Deputy for Culture. I designed the palace and the Institute for Information in the city centre, where the Party newspaper was printed.

I threw myself into the task of restructuring the nation, city by city, town by town, and village by village. I read the newspapers, but their headlines concealed our worsening international relations – I knew that certain foreign powers would oppose the revolution but I left the diplomatic minutiae to the President and his inner circle, convinced that my responsibility lay solely in redesigning our cities so that they were easier to defend.

The National Deputy for Culture visited me in my office, telling me that the President was abroad. He informed me that our economic programme had to change: private trading and farming were to be permitted ‘under extraordinary circumstances’ and tariffs on foreign imports were to be lowered, with the shortfall meaning that the architectural budget would be slashed, which I knew would render my designs unrealisable.

I called the President, asking him how he could sanction such compromise. It was simple, he said: did we want to stay in power or not? I hesitated. I said yes. The next day the Deputy for Culture returned. I was to be given an ‘advisory’ role to a new Deputy for Architecture, who would have to redesign the palace, as it was ‘too cold’ and ‘too stark’ to host foreign dignitaries meeting central government and inspecting its human rights record.

The pillars and arches around the building were replaced with solid brick walls, with the marble that constituted them sold to private construction firms. The hanging gardens, a symbol of ‘erroneous opulence’, were removed, the roof now bare concrete. A memorial to those killed in a war waged by the deposed King twenty years ago was constructed in the gardens. The insignia was removed, along with the dedication. The mural was destroyed and replaced with the kind of innocuous yet hideous design that would shame even the most reactionary royalist housewife.

There was no point in criticising. I kept my plans for the provincial cities, hoping that they could one day be implemented, but poured my energies into designing a monument to the workers for the empty plinth in the capital’s main square where a statue of the late-19th century King on horseback had once stood.

I submitted my plans to the new Deputy for Architecture. The rejection was far too swift. I called the President, telling him about his Deputy’s impatience for the long-term regenerative project, his complete lack of imagination and his childish inability to understand the connection between architectural and political ideas. He had no time for petty artistic squabbles, he said. The Deputy for Culture would have the final say.

I went to the palace to present my plans to the Deputy. He had cobbled together a ‘panel’, consisting of himself and two bureaucrats from the Institute, who had opposed virtually every design I offered during my headship. We argued for two hours. The bureaucrats bleated the word ‘unfeasible’ over and over again.

I asked the Deputy to discuss the plans with me alone – the functionaries had made their views clear. He led me to the roof and we stood on the balcony. We were the revolution’s greatest aesthetic theorists, I said. We owed it to ourselves not to let architectural matters be decided by such inferior minds.

The Deputy told me that the President was disappointed in my lack of focus on political matters since power was secured. I had ignored the issue of how to secure our position in the face of external opposition, he said, pursuing my ‘irresponsible’ obsession with aesthetics without regard for the actual challenges with which he and the rest of his closest aides were engaged.

The Deputy smiled as he detailed the plans that the new Deputy for Architecture had submitted for a new governmental building in the heart of the capital. The new design would, he said, be ‘approved by the people’ and would be much more popular than mine, which would be given order to the civil service: he had never liked my blueprint and only accepted it on the order of the President, who would never permit such an indulgent design now.

I glanced at the river. Refracted light scorched my retinas. I grabbed the philistine by the throat. His eyes threatened to burst out of their sockets. He was already blind, I thought. I pressed tighter. I had nothing else to hold. My grip denied him final words. I cast his lifeless body into the water, savouring his impact and his drift towards the city before walking down the stairs.

I passed through the main archway. The police circled me and drew their guns. I held up my hands: they had done their work.

The walls are of the room are white, as is the floor, and made of stone. The windows are barred. The bed is narrow, with a hard wooden board supporting the thin mattress. The pillow is thick, with brown stains on either side. There is no blanket, just a filthy sheet with frayed ends of cotton on every side.

Preoccupied with the final talks, just before war was declared, the President was not present at my trial. I don’t know who ordered the construction of my cell, from which I can see the ruins of the palace. It was the first building that was bombed: the enemy laboured under the notion that the government was still based there, and the President certainly wasn’t going to disabuse them.

Some days ago – I’m not sure how many – a man in a featureless uniform knocked on my door and handed me a note and a foreign newspaper. The note was from the President. His suggestion that I stay away from the Royal Palace had been a test: if I had been truly serious about the revolution, I would have insisted on joining him at the barricades. The newspaper carried a photograph of the balcony as it cascaded into the river, the flames only partially quenched by the broken current.